Weaving A Web Strategy
by Pamela Accetta Smith
Dairy companies continue exploring ways to use the Internet to maximize profits.
An effective Web site should get a company to a point where it has established popularity, traffic and brand loyalty. It should contain a wealth of information, resources and services. To that end, there are many dairy processors who are effectively utilizing this marketing tool to promote their business and boost their bottom line — to help ensure the success of their brand.
For example, Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Saputo Cheese USA Inc.’s new Frigo® Cheese Heads® site, launched in July 2005, has maximized effectiveness by using a variety of techniques to keep it fresh and interesting for boys and girls ages 6 to 14. It introduced a more robust, active, youthful and appealing Cheese Heads character; showcased Frigo Cheese Heads products in a more active, engaging and interactive environment; and has increased visits to and time spent on the brand site with games, promotional offers and easy-to-understand product information.
Saputo says the new site has increased non-promotional impressions, and the length of time per visit has increased as well.
Likewise, La Farge, Wis.-based Organic Valley Family of Farms has had much success with the current iteration of its Web site, launched in January 2005. Since then, Organic Valley reports, the site has exceeded company performance expectations in every measurable category.
As Organic Valley’s primary online marketing vehicle, the site has ensured its visitors quick access to the types of information they desire, whether it be specific product information, gourmet recipes, production standards policies, news, press releases, agricultural advocacy programs, educational materials or children’s content.
And, of course, there’s Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., well known for its interactive Web site. The company has optimally utilized its site to promote products, service its customers, offer exceptional recipes, answer frequently asked questions (FAQs) and effectively communicate all aspects of the Kraft organization.
The ways a company can optimally use this amazing marketing medium are seemingly endless. To explore some of them, Dairy Field talked with the following processors who are leveraging the power of the World Wide Web:
Terry Reeves, communications director and director of Internet sales, Dippin’ Dots Inc., Paducah, Ky.
Margaret Schwartz, Internet marketing manager, Land O’Lakes Inc., Arden Hills, Minn.
Mark Vance, vice president of marketing, Oberweis Ice Cream and Dairy Stores, North Aurora, Ill.
Q: How are dairy companies using the Web to their best advantage?
Schwartz: The Internet offers opportunities to companies of all sizes and expertise. I’ve seen individuals from smaller regional companies be very innovative with newsletters, interactive tours and “blogging,” while larger companies take full advantage of online media and very creative promotions that link online to offline programs. There really isn’t an issue with the audience — which has basically reached critical mass — and the advantages of the Web make it very attractive in many ways: the opportunities to target more specifically, measure results, test ideas fairly quickly, communicate easily with consumers, run simple surveys, and to basically be available 24/7 with product messaging. At the very least, to have a way for consumers to contact the company via e-mail is of great importance. Of course, there has to be a support system within the company to manage all of this, but that can be tackled in innovative ways as well.
Reeves: It would be practically impossible for us to compete in the franchise sector without a Web site. While many people still rely on print publications for information, we find that thousands of people do their franchise research online. For us, simply put, opening more franchises means selling more ice cream.
Q: How does your company leverage the Internet to enhance business operations?
Vance: For many years, Oberweis Dairy used our Web site purely as a place where customers could get basic information about our company or our products (e.g., store locations, product nutritional information or home-delivery areas). Over the past three years, we have moved to a more dynamic model that capitalizes on a wide array of Internet-based marketing solutions. While we still offer the same information as before, we have added customer account management, a new customer referral program, CRM technology that promotes a wider range of our products, segmented e-mail marketing campaigns, customer surveys and one of the most promotion-oriented customer loyalty programs for our ice cream and dairy stores — The Moola Card.
Schwartz: Our site reflects both what consumers want from Land O’Lakes — recipes, promotions, product information — with what our brand groups want to communicate (new product news, promotions, etc.). We create online overlays to offline news, such as recipe features around certain themes, new product introductions and partnership tie-ins, and facilitate many of the offline promotions such as sweepstakes entries, registration for rebates and loyalty membership signup. Our loyalty program, The Simple Rewards™ Club, isrand messaging. We leverage the search engines for driving traffic to the site, and other online properties for strategic media opportunities.
Reeves: Our Web site is promoted on most all of our POP materials and on our retail units. The site has three functions for our company: one, to answer inquiries about our products and company … two, to allow potential franchisees to learn about the franchise opportunity and begin the application process … and three, to sell ice cream and related branded items. In addition to receiving and processing franchise leads, our company did an amazing amount in sales of our ice cream products via the Internet in 2005 with practically no promotion other than on the actual site. At the end of the year, this definitely grabbed our attention, so we plan a larger offensive for 2006.
Q: What does your Web site currently contain that separates you from the competition?
Vance: Our Web site really shines when it comes to giving our customers the ability to manage their relationship with us on their terms and when it is convenient for them. We have also been very focused on driving incremental revenue with specific, segmented product offerings.
Schwartz: It depends on the competition. If it’s other dairy (butter, spreads and cheese) sites, it would be our robust recipe database, national promotions and loyalty club. If it’s other recipe sites (AllRecipes, BH&G, etc.) it would be our brand-specific offerings (recipes, promotions) without third party advertising — and again, our Simple Rewards loyalty program and newsletter. Our consumer affairs and test kitchens have been a great benefit to our consumers, which not all dairy companies can offer.
Reeves: There are many great-looking Web sites that represent ice cream companies. Since our first site debuted in 1997, we’ve mixed it up on style and substance. We’ve gone from fun to austere and now back to fun! I think it’s important to remember your audience. A franchise candidate or food and beverage manager will recognize that we offer a “fun” approach to ice cream as they research the products, yet when it’s time to talk business they want as much information as possible and an efficient way to contact us and submit their information. I think we’ve reached a balance on those two fronts.
Q: What successes have you had with your Web site content?
Vance: We’ve been extremely successful using our Web site to establish a dynamic two-way communication relationship with our customers. Our customers can manage their home delivery and dairy store loyalty card programs online 24 hours a day. We offer the Web site as our customers’ primary method of providing feedback, while still maintaining a commitment to “real person” contact in our customer service department (1-888-MILK-TO-U). We actively seek customer feedback via online surveys as well. While there is always room to improve our content and applications, I am very proud of the innovative ways we have used the Internet to get closer to our customers.
Schwartz: We’ve had much success combining on-target recipe features with an accompanying sweepstakes, and good success with open rates and click through rates from our newsletter. We attract a very loyal group of consumers who use the site and who sign up for our Simple Rewards program. Some promotions have proven more successful than others, sweepstakes generally being more successful than online coupons, which have had a bad rap due to online fraud.
Reeves: From a financial perspective based on ’05 sales, we’ve evidently made it convenient for customers to order ice cream online. From a franchise perspective, it’s clearly our most popular method of lead retrieval. We plan to pay even more attention to the content of the site this year, possibly even devoting full time internal resources.  Unlike a print brochure or marketing piece, Web sites are a never-ending project. Surfers expect up-to-the minute information on everything. We have behind-the-scenes admin areas so that several departments can update their specific information as needed, but, even a cooperative effort sometimes isn’t enough.
Q: How has your Web site boosted your bottom line?
Vance: Customers are buying more items and visiting us more frequently as we have steadily increased the value proposition. Dollars per stop (our home-delivery check measure) is up. Likewise, our dairy store purchase frequency and check average measures have increased as a result of the use of technology to communicate with our customers.
Schwartz: While it’s difficult to measure actual product purchases related to Web site usage, our site has mitigated costs in many areas. It has lowered printing costs when we offer downloadable brochures, made the loyalty club program possible by eliminating high costs of print and mailings, and has made sweepstakes programs faster and less expensive through online entries. Other ways the Web site contributes are that it offers potential partners value-adds for negotiating partnership programs, has kept a sizable group of loyal consumers involved with the brand consistently for years, facilitates communication with consumers and allows Consumer Affairs to better handle requests for recipes and meal ideas. The Web site has also made some market research possible that would have been cost-prohibitive due to low incidence in certain markets and also has shortened the timeline for research considerably.
Reeves: As I mentioned, the number of online party packs of ice cream sold last year was very significant, and we’re directing more resources to that effort in ’06.  In addition, we’ve qualified a very large number of franchisees through our website over the years and that means an increase in ice cream sales for the company overall.
Q: What do you see in the future for value-added Web site dairy marketing innovation?
Vance: The challenge for dairy marketers is to continue to provide value to an audience that is increasingly more Web-savvy. That value may be delivered with information, product differentiation or direct consumer response activity. The Web offers marketers the opportunity to be increasingly relevant to individual customers. The Internet, e-mail and interactive technologies are now the standards and are no longer the exceptions when it comes to building that relevancy.  
Schwartz: I see much the same for the dairy industry as for other industries — technical innovation such as rich media, RSS, mobile messaging, gaming, and more interactivity in the Brand web sites. Whether there will be less TV or other advertising is hard to say across the board, but better integration of Web sites and online into the marketing mix is an opportunity still to be tapped.
Reeves: Interactive Web sites will be a must. Whether it’s providing franchise information, offering customers coupons or involving them in market research, dairy marketers must channel a literal universe of information into a one-to-one relationship with our customers.